Thursday, 30 December 2010

The Ten Command-Ments: Building your First Commander Deck

by Andrew Pemberton

Howdy, gang! I hope everyone had a suitably Magic-filled Christmas, and is ready to get back to some real brewing. Last article, I talked about my own Azusa Commander deck, and this week, I'd like to continue on from that to show you the steps to creating your own Commander deck, by not only leading you through the thought processes, but give you examples along the way.

1, Selecting your Colours and Commander

Now, to start off deck building, it's imperative to know what you wish to accomplish: Do you want to smother the battlefield with powerful board spells, or intricately build up a machine-like combo? Once you know what you need to accomplish, you can choose your colours accordingly. For the intricately minded, Blue offers a lot of tricks and disruption effects, while the aggressive strategies offered by both Red and Green may appeal to others among you.

You may not even want to choose your colours first: I have known many people (Including myself) to pick a Commander first and go with the colour(s) he or she offers. It's also fine if you like a Commander for his abilities, or even just sentimentality. It's Casual, so it's perfectly fine to have sentimentality enter the fray.

2, Knowing your Commander and your Plan of Attack

So, you've chosen your colours and (Hopefully) Your Commander. Now, we can start to build up an idea of the type of deck we would like to run. To do this, I often make a Pros and Cons list of what my deck should be able to do, as a result of my Commander choice. Doing this allows you to pinpoint both the strengths and weaknesses of your chosen Commander, and allows you to formulate basic plans of attack in order to fight your weaknesses. For example, if you need to sacrifice a creature in order to activate your Commander's effect, then having a few token generators allows you to use very little mana and card advantage to gain a continuous source of fodder.

Of course, knowing your Commander also means knowing your plan of attack, stemming into the Three major Archetypes: Control; Aggro; and Combo.

Control decks tend to favour a permission style of play: That is, they allow you to control what happens on the board, either through 'Sweepers' (Effects that destroy all of a given type of card on the field, i.e. Day of Judgment), Counterspells (Mana Leak), and bouncing permanents to their controller's hand (Unsummon). Supplemented with a fair amount of card draw, this style of play always needs a fairly large card count in hand in order to benefit fully, and cards that recycle themselves, such as Capsize, are often at use in these forms of decks due to the lack of Card Advantage spent in order to gain their full effects.

Aggro decks are the complete opposite of their Control counterparts: They want to win, and they want to do it as quickly and brutally as possible, either by playing a threatening creature every turn, or using fast ramp spells (Spells that increase your mana production or land count on the Battlefield) in order to put out their bigger Creatures as fast as possible. These strategies always include lots of efficient creatures that either have a high Power and Toughness, or that have very useful effects when in combat, such as Trample or Flying. Aggro decks also tend to have a lot of removal, either in the form of single-one-shot effects or their own versions of sweepers, and also gain benefit from having utility-style effects such as Hull Breach in order to target multiple threats at once.

Combo decks are a little more complex than the previous Archetypes: Combo decks support combination play, in that they want to assemble a game-winning set of cards as fast as possible. Not usually running many creatures, these types of decks instead want to use Card Draw and Tutors (Cards that allow you to search your library for a specific type of card) in order to assemble said combo as quickly as possible. There are plenty of Combination plays available, and even Aggro and Control decks can use certain combos in order to gain advantage. Combo play is also the most versatile form of attack, which can result in milling the Opponent's library; dealing infinite damage to every player; and making infinite mana to support said combos. Combo decks are also, by their nature, very fragile: If one of your pieces is gone, you may have trouble reforming it, so it does take careful consideration in order to make the right plays.

3, Choosing cards to fit your plan

Now, most Pro Players will say that a good basis to any deck is knowing what your deck does, and how its cards interact. In Commander, there is very little difference: In fact, the nature of Highlander formats allows us to have more interactions between our spells, and generally the more our cards interact, the better our results become. Certainly, it is important to consider what cards you need to achieve certain goals, and how versatile these cards are in our overall plan. Not only that, we need a structure so that we don't overdo it on certain areas: We don't want to be drawing too many removal spells when we need a Creature to end the game for us.

As a basic plan, I tend to not have a fixed outline for deck building, as some decks need cards that others don't. As a basic principle, I would look to this as an outline;

-35-40 Land

As with any format, you can't do much without Land. This should be a mix of both colour-producing lands and utility lands. In accordance with the number of spells of a specific colour, your lands should have a similar ratio in producing those colours. Of course, two and three-colour decks have the benefit of Dual Lands and Tri-Lands in order to help fix their mana base. Utility lands are lands that serve a purpose other than producing mana, and should be at their minimum in a 3 or more colour deck. This will give you the right mana to cast your spells, but can be added to or reduced depending on the lands you need to accomplish your goals. Some lands can add Coloured mana as well as an effect, such as Oran-Rief the Vastwood, allowing you access to the lands without crippling your mana base.

-5-10 Mana producers (Land Search, Ramp, Artifact Mana)

Depending on the colour, you may have more or less access to Ramp. Green tends to be the best colour for land searching and ramping, and can easily be a support colour in a three colour deck to ensure you get your mana as fast as possible. However, in other colours this ramp is a little harder to achieve. One way around this is to use the best slots available within your colour: All colours have some form of Land search or ramp spells;

White: Land Tax; Weathered Wayfarer
Blue: High Tide
Black: Dark Ritual
Red: Desperate Ritual; Seething Song

It's up to you to weed out what you think is the best style of card for your deck. The second option is the use of Artifact-based mana. Though sometimes expensive in terms of monetary value, this allows you to ramp if your colour is a little weak in terms of options in this field. Cards such as Mana Vault, Darksteel Ingot, and the Signets from Ravnica Block offer fairly inexpensive ways of producing mana, and depending on your budget, Sol Ring makes an invaluable ally in Ramping for any deck.

-20-25 Creatures

Now, let me get this point across very clearly: Everyone has creatures in Commander. If you go in unprepared, you'll find it incredibly hard to win. These creatures can change, depending on the makeup of your deck, however. If you have a control style of deck, you may find that loading up on Removal is a better prospect than having more guys, and finding one to protect may be an easier prospect than having your creatures constantly destroyed.

I like to think of creatures in a few ways: I want a few creatures that do specific roles - Some to help me ramp, some to give me some utility, and some to win me the game. Getting the right balance is all about playing with the cards and finding out what works for you, and whether cards are optimal for the deck as a whole.

-7-12 Card Draw / Card Advantage

Having some form of card draw, even in colours that are scarce of it, allows you to keep refilling your hand and finding gas. Just like ramp, all colours have some form of draw, although some draw is better than others... and just like ramp, there are colourless options as well, though they tend to be more of a 'group hug' (Cards that help all players equally) field than anything. Colourless draw that is targeted (Jayemdae Tome, etc), can be expensive in most cases, but may be better than having no options at all.

-2-5 Tutors

Invaluable for combo decks, these allow you to find what you need straight away. Black tends to have the most versatile tutors, but some will cost you life. Depending on your game plan, you will need some form of tutoring in order to find what you need easier: If you know a card is key to your strategy, then packing a couple of ways to search it up is never a bad idea. These cards can be a little expensive in monetary terms depending on your colours, though, but there are always options in a field of 11,000 Cards. Reusable Tutors are always handy (Artificer's Intuition; Survival of the Fittest), and can let you go for whatever you need as you go through the game, often for minimal cost.

-8-10 Removal (Including Sweepers and Spot Removal)

As with creatures, removal is essential for any deck. The types of removal vary greatly from colour to colour: White prefers to destroy everything on the board or Exile certain threats, while Red prefers to burn everything to a crisp. The best way to pack your removal is to know that you have something for everything, so at least you have a chance at neutering opposing threats. The best cards in this category for versatility are the Command Cycle from Lorwyn Block. Each Command offers at least some form of removal over its four 'Modes', but that versatility means that the cards can still be useful should you not be under direct threat of a Woodfall Primus stomping on your face.

-10-15 Utility Spells (Recursion, Token Generators, etc)

These incorporate cards that aren't defined the above structure. These cards can include recursion, either returning cards to play or to your hand, or cards that allow you added utility in some regard. These cards are usually tied to your Commander in some way, either in creating a combination play, or just in aiding your board position a little by letting you re-use key cards.

Now, the structure is never a perfect structure: You can never tie many strategies into one style of deckbuilding, but you can at least get a starting point from this style of thinking. Just think of what you need to be playing, and dedicate an area of your 100 cards to that specific point.

4. Testing and tweaking your Deck.

Of course, Commander is meant to be a fun format, but that doesn't mean you can't always tweak your deck. Building the deck is half of the fun, but actually playing and enjoying your deck is the major part of any game of Magic. Now, you can never make a perfect Commander deck on the first try: I find myself always finding cards that I want to try, or cards that I didn't find were up to the task that I'd set for them.

Deck Construction in this format should be in a constant state of flux: You should always want to try and adapt your strategies, try new cards if and when your budget allows, or even so much as change the Commander you're using if it means developing your play style further. If there's one thing I want you to take away from this, it is that you never have to keep your deck the same: Change cards, mix it up a little, and you'll find your understanding deepen, and even take some helpful hints into Standard or Drafting at the next WNM. Your deck won't evolve if you don't evolve with it.

5. Repeat Ad Nauseam

Now, once you've caught the bug of actually building and playing decks, you can experiment with new colours and Commanders. The world of Commander is a constantly evolving format: With each new set comes new potential for Commanders, new removal cards, and new cards to supplement our strategies. Only by exploring these intricacies will we find our new ways to play.

...and with that, I will bid thee adieu. I hope you enjoyed this week's segment as much as I enjoyed writing it. Until next week, feel free to use the links below to contact me, or just grab me for a chat at WNM next week.

Until then, take your game to the next level!
Andy P

Sunday, 19 December 2010

The Ten Command-Ments: Azusa, Lost but Seeking

by Andrew Pemberton

Howdy, all. After last week's success (or so I've been told), I can now announce my further involvement in the Team Leeds Blog! Ron Wagner has set me up as a Co-Author for the site, and I will be using this capacity mainly as a multiplayer writer. My aim is to get more people involved and interested in all formats, but for the most part, I'd like to talk about Commander in many facets, from strategy and politics to deck techs from not only myself, but other players within the group.

However, as of last week's discussion, two major rules changes have occurred:

*Emrakul, the Aeons Torn is now BANNED!

For those of you just getting into Commander (Or for those who have played against John Ingham or Mark Hammond any time during the last 3 months), Emrakul was the bane of any player's existence. Play would devolve into one of two scenarios usually;

1, You cast a 15-Mana 'I win the game spell', which forces everyone else on the table to try and kill you before you kill them.
2, A player would cast Bribery, and often steal a player's Emrakul, sealing the win for themselves as early as turn 4 or 5 with acceleration.

Now, the Giant Tentacle Monster is no more, and we can all feel free to enjoy intricate combos again. As for the other change;

*When building a Commander deck, the mana symbols in the text box are just as important as those in the cost of a card. The Commander’s color identity restricts what cards may appear in the deck.

In short, this translates to previously unplayable Generals such as Memnarch; Bosh, Iron Golem and Rhys the Exiles being legal for Commander play. Colour Identity refers to both the mana cost and any mana symbols in your chosen General's text box, and you may use cards of those colours.

i.e. I am running a Thelon of Havenwood Commander deck. Under the old rules, I could only use Green or Colourless cards because Thelon's colour identity was only Green. Now, Thelon decks are allowed to use both Green and Black coloured cards, as Thelon has a Black mana symbol within his text box: Perfect for those who love Pernicious Deed!

OK, now that those have been addressed, I'd like to begin my real talking point. At the request of Steve McAleer, I have produced a Deck Tech for my own Commander deck. I present to you... Azusa, Lost but Seeking!

1 Azusa, Lost but Seeking

If you remember from last week, I described a few ways in which you should look to use your general. Azusa, in my eyes, is a little bit of a unique general, in that you want to be able to cast her often, but even just casting her once can put you incredibly far ahead based on what your hand looks like. I sit in the Sam Black school of thinking, in that I want to abuse my general as much as possible, and what way to do that than with a lot of land?

20 Forest
1 Misty Rainforest
1 Verdant Catacombs
1 Windswept Heath
1 Wooded Foothills

As a Mono-Green build, the Forests are essentials. The fetches allow me to thin my deck slightly, and also combo well with cards further down the list. I generally want one or two Green-producing lands in my opener, ideally with one of the next few cards.

1 Havenwood Battleground
1 Hickory Woodlot
1 Ancient Tomb
1 Crystal Vein

These lands are all special in that each one allows me to cast a turn 2 Azusa. Some do it at the cost of life, others at the cost of a sacrifice. Either way, the resources in Commander are such that you can afford some form of liberties, either with your life total or with sacrificial outlets. The increase in tempo they allow you is well worth the cost.

1 Dust Bowl
1 Strip Mine
1 Tectonic Edge
1 Wasteland

Land Destruction is helpful both in 1V1 and Multiplayer situations. In any case, most LD is used to keep a cap on someone trying to abuse utility lands such as Academy Ruins to set up a combo. At a push, you can keep people off colours, but it depends how cut-throat you want to be. Know that by destroying lands just for the sake of it, you will likely incur the wrath of your opponent.

1 Blasted Landscape
1 Slippery Karst
1 Tranquil Thicket

The cycle lands offer a little bit of extra draw late game, while being acceptable as land drops in the early game. Every card matters, and having some that can pull double-duty is important in such a format.

1 Gaea's Cradle
1 Yavimaya Hollow
1 Boseiju, Who Shelters All
1 Eldrazi Temple
1 Eye of Ugin
1 Petrified Field
1 Reliquary Tower
1 Temple of the False God
1 Vesuva

The rest of my mana base just offers various utility depending on what I need. Cradle gives me lots of mana; Hollow allows me to protect my creatures, while Boseiju protects my spells. The Temple and Eye of Ugin are for my small Eldrazi contingent, and it gives me a tutor for not only them, but also other Colourless creatures, depending on what I need. Petrified Field lets me re-use my sacrificed lands; Temple of the False God is an easy 2 mana in this deck; Reliquary Tower lets me go overboard on some of the draw effects; and Vesuva allows me doubles of any land, or just detroy my opponent's Legendary land.

Mana Acceleration:
1 Crop Rotation
1 Hermit Druid
1 Lotus Cobra
1 Rofellos, Llanowar Emissary
1 Sylvan Scrying
1 Life From the Loam
1 Realms Uncharted
1 Journey of Discovery
1 Gaea's Bounty
1 Oracle of Mul Daya
1 Seek the Horizon
1 Primeval Titan
1 Krosan Tusker
1 Mana Vault
1 Sol Ring
1 Armillary Sphere
1 Crucible of Worlds

Many green Commander builds are based around the production and effective use of mana, and mine is no different. There's plenty of cheap, effective ramp for my strategy, and I don't skimp out on it. Land search is prevalent, and it mainly adds lands to my hand, allowing me to use Azusa to her full potential, as well as trigger Landfall, making Lotus Cobra a very good addition. Primeval Titan is usually seen fetching Valakuts, but here it allows me to fetch any two lands I need. However, the two most important cards are Life From the Loam and Crucible of Worlds: Both of these allow me to add another layer to my gameplay: Using the graveyard as a resource. Crucible allows me to recur my 2-mana producing lands, as well as fetch lands, while Life from the Loam gives me back the cycle lands to re-cycle (Heh ;p) for more advantage. Cast, Dredge, Repeat. The ability to constantly cantrip with the Cycle lands gives me plenty of options, including the ability to dredge back Loam should I have two or more of them at my disposal.

1 Sylvan Library
1 Harmonize
1 Greater Good
1 Regal Force
1 Sensei's Divining Top
1 Scroll Rack
1 Horn of Greed
1 Well of Knowledge
1 Mind's Eye

Green does have some of the worst time with stable draw, so I've tried to include not only the best draw from my own colour, but also some artifact-based draw. Sylvan Library, Harmonize and Greater Good let me dig deeper, while Sensei's Divining Top helps me filter what I need, along with Scroll Rack. However, the most influential card is Horn of Greed: The ability to get three draws a turn with Azusa out gives you plenty of gas, or more land to continue to cycle through next turn.

1 Lignify
1 Relic Crush
1 Rootgrapple
1 Acidic Slime
1 Desert Twister
1 Duplicant
1 All is Dust

Most Green-based removal tends to be favourable towards Non-Creature destruction, as can be seen via Rootgrapple, Relic Crush and the Slime. However, Green also has the undeniably strong Desert Twister, allowing you to destroy ANYTHING for 4GG, and as an uncommon, is a staple for those of you on tight budgets. All is Dust gives me a good board sweeper should I need it, and Duplicant gets rid of pesky fatties trying to get in your way, not to mention opposing Generals.

1 Worldly Tutor
1 Sylvan Tutor
1 Treefolk Harbinger
1 Survival of the Fittest
1 Eternal Witness
1 Natural Order
1 Primal Command
1 Tooth and Nail

Whether tutoring for a utility creature or for a game-winning combination, these allow me to search for exactly the right type of card for the situation. One of the more intricate of these is Treefolk Harbinger: He can fetch me a Forest if I need mana; Lignify if I need creature removal; Rootgrapple if it's a non-creature giving me trouble, or Woodfall Primus if I need a fatty AND removal in the late game. Natural Order and Tooth and Nail are both very powerful as well, giving me a tutor and allowing the creature(s) to enter the battlefield, ready to fight. I will admit that Tooth and Nail is one of my pet cards (My first forays into Standard were during Onslaught-8th-Mirrodin), it's hard to ignore such a drastically powerful spell that can set up any number of game-winning combos.

1 Mwonvuli Acid-Moss
1 Plow Under
1 Stunted Growth

These cards just give me a little more control over certain situations. Acid-Moss and Plow Under gives me some control over my opponent's lands, while Stunted Growth gives me a very rare ability: The ability to affect my opponent's hands. Usually a Blue or Black ability on the 'Colour Pie', this is a rare and very powerful effect for Green, and certainly a hidden gem of mine. Serving the same type of role as Plow Under, setting your opoonent back three cards in hand and neutering their draws for three turns can have a drastic effect on the game. I recommend it for any Green player out there :).

Creatures / Win Conditions:
1 Masticore
1 Rude Awakening
1 Kamahl, Fist of Krosa
1 Steel Hellkite
1 Avenger of Zendikar
1 Terrastodon
1 Woodfall Primus
1 Artisan of Kozilek
1 Kozilek, Butcher of Truth
1 Ulamog, the Infinite Gyre
1 Genesis Wave

...and finally, we come to our win conditions. Eventually, once we have our mana set up, we want to cast a huge threat for beating face with.This can be anything from an Avenger of Zendikar with a ton of Plant tokens; Terrastodon and his Elephant buddies; or even just an Eldrazi. Steel Hellkite gives you some much-needed evasion, and allows you to hurt your opponent's field after he hits.

Strategical advantages of Azusa:

Obviously, Azusa's main goal is to set you up with a lot of land, in order to cast your bigger spells. Azusa does this by trading in your hand for more board prescence, in the form of extra land. When combined with the draw engines and other ways of attaining Card Advantage, this becomes an immense way to keep on top.

Azusa also has the benefit of helping you ramp without painting a serious target on your face: In 1v1 games, you should aim to get a Turn 2 Commander casting, into a turn 3 massive spell, by which point, you're so far ahead that it becomes very difficult for the other player to make it back into the game.

Finally, I'd like to go few a few combination plays I use when playing;

Azusa + Horn of Greed: Horn of greed is powerful in its own right, helping you get more value out of extra lands. However, when combined with Azusa, you'll be getting 3 cantrips for the price of your opponent's one in most cases.

Crucible of Worlds + Azusa + Strip Mine: This allows you to nuke up to three lands a turn. Great for getting ahead, but not so great when everyone turns against you for it!

Masticore + Kamahl, Fist of Krosa: Another Land Destruction element, this allows you to turn your opponent's land into a 1/1 for G, then shoot it to death with Masticore's ping ability. Mid-Late game, this can be devastating, leaving your opponent with an insurmountable task to accomplish.

Regal Force + Avenger of Zendikar: Depending on the amount of land you have in play, this will almost certainly refill your hand, if not give you a little more to play with. Add Gaea's Cradle if you want a lot of mana to go with it as well.

Survival of the Fittest + Kozilek / Ulamog: Allows you to grab any creature you need, while also allowing you to shuffle your graveyard back into the deck, ready to use those spells a second time.

Well guys, that's all I have for this week's installment. As always, if you have questions, comments or just wanna chat, you can hit me up on the blog, at WNM or via MSN at Thanks, and have a great week!

Andy P

Monday, 13 December 2010

Worlds Extended metagame analysis

By Wagz

Hi all, have you been watching the Worlds Coverage? I didn't stay up all night to do so and they're being very slow to put the videos online so I'm filling my time by writing this article. Coming out of Worlds the only relevant format for most Brits will be Extended, so this is an attempt to bring to you an analysis of the format, listed by the most played decks and including the number of them which went 4-1-1 or better:

#1 Jund - 48 Players, 3 5-1's, 1 4-1-1.

4 Blackcleave

2 Copperline Gorge
4 Fire-Lit Thicket
1 Graven Cairns
2 Lavaclaw Reaches
2 Mountain
3 Raging Ravine
4 Reflecting Pool
4 Savage Lands

4 Bloodbraid Elf
4 Boggart Ram-Gang
4 Demigod of Revenge
4 Kitchen Finks
4 Putrid Leech
1 Sygg, River Cutthroat

4 Blightning
4 Lightning Bolt
4 Maelstrom Pulse
1 Thoughtseize

Jund was promised to be one of the more popular decks going into Worlds and it didn't disappoint. It did, however, disappoint most of the players running it. Probably due to it being too much of a Standard deck, the loss of Tarmogoyf hurt this deck a lot. There were rumours of a version with Woodlurker Mimic going around before the tournament due to the large number of Green-Black spells making this card a regular 4/5 for 2 but they either didn't get played or simply didn't perform very well.

Verdict: A bad choice of deck for Extended, but many players in the UK will play it anyway and think that I'm wrong *sigh*.

#2 Vivid Control - 41 Players, 1 6-0, 1 5-0-1. 1 5-1, 1 4-0-2 (Matignon), 3 4-1-1's.

Decklist from Luis Scott-Vargas
1 Cascade Bluffs
2 Creeping Tar Pit
3 Island
1 Mountain
2 Mystic Gate
4 Reflecting Pool
2 Scalding Tarn
2 Sunken Ruins
4 Vivid Creek
2 Vivid Marsh
3 Vivid Meadow

3 Wall of Omens
2 Wurmcoil Engine

2 Cruel Ultimatum
4 Cryptic Command
1 Day of Judgment
4 Esper Charm
3 Jace, the Mind Sculptor
4 Lightning Bolt
4 Mana Leak
1 Path to Exile
4 Preordain
2 Volcanic Fallout

Cruel Control was a big player during its time in Standard and an Extended version was always going to appear. The manabase allows one to play the best spells across any number of colours, which makes it easy to fit in any spells from the whole of Extended. Jace and Preordain are clearly auto-includes for any Blue-based control deck (Ali Aintrazi is plain wrong, he could have 6-0'd with a better decklist) and make sculpting the game up to that first crippling Cruel Ultimatum that much easier.

Verdict: A good performer, getting many pilots the points they required. This will be the main control deck going into the PTQ season.

#3 Scapeshift - 32 Players, 1 5-0-1, 4 5-1's, 2 4-1-1's.

I won't provide you with a decklist, for the plain reason that there isn't a definitive Scapeshift deck yet. Some are straight Blue-Green decks like last season's version, some are Prismatic Omen-based Bant Control decks, using Wargate as an effective tutor for Valakut or the Omen, and some have even replaced Pyromancer Ascension in that shell of a deck for a better kill.

Verdict: Scapeshift looks like it will form the basis of the best or second best deck in Extended, but we're a way off figuring the right build as there is a lot of room to do bad things on the path to goodness.

#4 Fae - 30 Players, 1 6-0 (Jonathan Randle :D), 2 5-1's, 2 4-1-1's.

3 Creeping Tar Pit
4 Darkslick Shores
3 Island
4 Mutavault
4 Secluded Glen
3 Sunken Ruins
3 Swamp
1 Tectonic Edge

4 Mistbind Clique
4 Spellstutter Sprite
3 Vendilion Clique

4 Bitterblossom
3 Cryptic Command
3 Disfigure
1 Doom Blade
1 Inquisition of Kozilek
2 Jace, the Mind Sculptor
4 Mana Leak
2 Smother
4 Thoughtseize

This is the Japanese list but most are likely to be very similar. The perennial aggro-control deck, Bitterblossom is a potent threat which drastically powers up Spellstutter Sprite and Mistbind Clique. The idea behind the deck is to slowly take control of the game and then when you have the opponent locked out to finish them off. The most annoying deck in Standard in its time and the best deck in Extended 2 years ago, Fae looks to be a player yet again with Jace thrown into the fold.

Verdict: A solid choice if you know what you're doing, the deck has benefitted greatly from Darkslick Shores in giving it turn 1 Thoughtseize more often to enable the Seize-Blossom-Counter-Clique draws which are nigh unbeatable.

#5 GW Hideaway - 28 players, 3 5-1's.

Decklist from Rafael Levy
5 Forest
3 Misty Rainforest
1 Mosswort Bridge
1 Murmuring Bosk
1 Mutavault
1 Plains
1 Sejiri Steppe
4 Stirring Wildwood
3 Verdant Catacombs
4 Windbrisk Heights
1 Wooded Bastion

3 Baneslayer Angel
4 Birds of Paradise
4 Emrakul, the Aeons Torn
4 Knight of the Reliquary
4 Lotus Cobra
4 Nest Invader
4 Noble Hierarch
4 Primeval Titan
4 Summoning Trap

Originally conceived by Zvi Mowshowitz for Amsterdam, this is the fast mana cheat-a-fatty deck with a solid back-up plan of big creatures. I saw Richard Bland and Joe Jackson bash this against Elves for a while at the Nottingham PTQ where the faster combo deck won, often a Baneslayer Angel was useless - even on turn 3. I don't think decks need to adjust too much to beat this consistently but the pilots need to be aware of its existence to beat it with regularity.

Verdict - a fun fatty-cheat deck with some powerful things to do but not consistent enough for me. This is one for the coin-flippers among you (if you play Belcher in Legacy and Eldrazi Green in Standard, this might be a deck for you).

I don't have the time or inclination to go on but some noteable decks are:
- Elves with 17 pilots, 3 of whom went 5-1. This is a weenie combo deck which got a big hand from Ezuri, Renegade Leader in having a spout for its mana.
- White Weenie, UB Polymorph, RDW and Pyro Ascension having 21, 13, 13 and 7 appearances respectively but unable to buy (wescoe check) a 4-2 between them.
- Merfolk, UW Reveillark and Doran doing fairly poorly - the midrange aggro decks with a bit of disruption aren't battling well in this field. This is presumably because Jund is doing their job better, but it could also be bad matchups.
- Tempered Steel being the mathematically most successful deck with 7 players yielding a 6-0, a 5-1 and a 4-1-1. It remains to be seen if this was a fluke but it looks like it has a lot of power with 12 Anthem effects, lots of cheap weenies and a bit of card draw thrown in.

Overall Verdict:
We seem to lack a fast aggro deck because of Jund's popularity. The metagame is shifting into midrange aggro (Jund), control (Cruel), aggro control (Fae) and Combo (Scapeshift). These decks are just quick enough to force out anything too quick but there would be room for a very quick combo deck to do its business if one emerged. The Tempered Steel deck could bring out a very fast aggro deck but it seems like the diminished popularity of Jund is the only thing that will help shake up the meta. Since Jund isn't a very good deck to be taking to a tournament right now (at least if you're expecting to face good players) then this could happen come the new PTQ season. Of course, Mirrodin Besieged could bring anything along. What're your thoughts?

Friday, 10 December 2010

Guest Article - The Ten Command-Ments: What you should know about Commander.

By Andy Pemberton

Imagine yourself, a mighty Planeswalker standing across from a sea of fire and combat. Your mighty forces leap into battle against your foul enemy, his forces obviously unable to take the might of your charge. Victorious chants begin to rain upon the battlefield as steel meets steel and claws rake against fragile flesh. You charge into action, seeing your victory but one combat step away, until a blue flash overtakes the battlefield. You stand, idle and unmoving, as your opponent seems to make time stand to a halt, and his own machinations come to life, reducing your forces to mere ash before your very eyes. Grand automations rise at his feet, as you stand, time stretching forever in front of you as they charge, your last trick, last hope, thundering onto the field to meet in one last clash of power...

Commander, a format of intricate deck building and powerful, game-ending spells. A format in which literally anything is possible. From the tournament player to the casual beginner, Commander is a format in which anyone can find enrichment and fun, and I hope I can show you a few ways which have captured me in this format.

1, The rules.

Commander, formerly known as Elder Dragon Highlander, is a format based around building a deck of 100 cards. Within these 100, you choose a Legendary creature to be your “Commander” or “General.” This general is the forefront of your deck, and can be used for many purposes: You can build a theme around a specific general, or use him for his (or her) powerful ability. This Commander sits outside of the play zone during a game, in a zone called, rather fittingly, the Command Zone. Commanders can be cast at any time for their mana cost. However, every time he returns to the Command Zone and has to be recast, he costs an additional 2 mana to cast.

As far as your other 99 cards are concerned, they have some restrictions as well. As a Highlander format, you are only allowed one card of any type, not including basic lands. That means you have to choose incredibly carefully when deciding what to add, as you only get one copy! This also means that any intricate combos have to be formed upon the basis of having to search through those 99 cards in order to assemble it. In addition, cards of these 99 can only be of the colour of your Commander, and lands you play can only produce colours of mana that match your Commander.

E.g.: I am playing with Intet, the Dreamer as my Commander. I can play cards such as Call the Skybreaker and Hull Breach, because all of the colours of these spells match the colour of my general. However, I cannot play a card such as Kitchen Finks, because a colour in its mana cost does not match my Commander.

E.g.: I am playing with Iona, Shield of Emeria as my General. I'll be quite happy playing with Basic Plains and other white mana-producing lands, but I cannot play Glacial Fortress, as it produces a colour of mana that does not match my General.

2, Commander is not just a multiplayer format.

Now, I would be the first to admit that the most fun I've had with this format is with four or five players all sat around a table, having fun casting gigantic spells and throwing Goblins at each other. However, Commander is not just for the multi-player in mind. You and a buddy can duke it out one on one if you please. This adds another layer of strategy to the format: It allows you to make card choices based on what you play more, or even build separate decks based on how you play. It also allows you to see how certain cards interact in certain settings: A card such as Blatant Thievery obviously gains more power with the more players you have, but other cards may be much better in a 1-on-1 game.

3, General Construction Guidelines.

In any format, there are certain guidelines that you can follow in order to get a consensus on how to build your deck properly. The old guidelines tended to be 20 Land, 20 creatures and 20 spells, and to be fair, this is close to how I'd recommend building your first deck. I'd look towards this as a rough estimate of cards;

35-40 Land / Mana sources
20-30 Creatures
30 Other Spells

This can vary widely depending on what sort of deck that you're building. In some decks, you may be pushing towards ending it with a milling strategy, or an alternate kill condition, in which case, the number of creatures can be reduced in order to add more tutors (Cards that fetch other cards of a specific type from your deck) in order to create your combos more easily. However, if you're Aggro (Read: Green :D), you'll generally want more Creatures, and balance the rest of your set-up between ramp, pump spells, etc.

What I will say is that this isn't a be-all, end-all formula. My Azusa, Lost but Seeking deck plays between 37 and 45 Lands in order to abuse her as much as possible during the early turns that she is on the field, whereas my Intet, the Dreamer deck runs on 36 with some ramp, and a lot more powerful spells as a result. Creating the right balance is part of the fun and intricacy of the format, after all!

4, Commander is an ever-changing, diverse format.

Commander decks can be built from any cards that are tournament legal. From Alpha and Beta cards up to Scars of Mirrodin, you can use many cards from previous eras. You may discover new combos, or brew up interesting interactions between similar cards. Also, as cards are released, they become legal in the format upon pre-release. That means that you can play with your new cards a week earlier than in the older formats such as Standard and Extended!

Of course, Commander has a banned list of cards deemed too powerful and against the flow of the format. For the longest time, the format grew from community support, and banned lists shifted depending on what people deemed fair. While this is still the case in some circles, as of December 20th there is speculated to be a fully standardized and supported Banned list by Wizards. The current list is as follows;

Ancestral Recall
Black Lotus
Coalition Victory
Gifts Ungiven
Grindstone (Unbanned as of 2009-12-01)
Kokusho, the Evening Star
Library of Alexandria
Limited Resources
Lion's Eye Diamond
Tolarian Academy
Mox Sapphire, Ruby, Pearl, Emerald and Jet
Panoptic Mirror
Protean Hulk
Recurring Nightmare
Sway of the Stars
Time Vault
Time Walk
Worldgorger Dragon
Yawgmoth's Bargain
Painter's Servant
Staff of Domination

The list is updated every 3 months, and with Wizards' rules team taking the helm, there could be significant changes towards cards being banned, or even cards becoming unbanned for play.

5, Commander is not just a game of skill, but a game of politics.

Now, I know what you're thinking... “I just want to cast my spells and win!”. However, in Commander there can be serious repercussions from your actions. I've been on the forefront of an attack many times due to trying to win the game too hastily. In some situations, I'll be able to pull back enough to stabilize, or I'll be stomped over and literally crushed. The one thing I hope you take away from this is to remember that there's not only you who wants to win. You could have two, three or even four other players each exacting their own plans. In addition, alliances form and break just as easily as in any multiplayer format, so your friend could be your enemy come your next turn. That's not to say that you have to be a pro to win; I've certainly gotten gratification out of just stopping certain players from winning if they decide to bring out a broken combination of cards.

6, The mood of play

Depending on who you play with, the games can take a large variance in tone, either with the player or the deck. One player may gravitate between fun decks such as a RB Goblin build, while one builds towards a more competitive 5-colour build depending on who he plays against. Sometimes, this can result in a player becoming serious about his line of play, in the quest for winning. Other times, that same player playing a fun deck can do things just because it makes the table laugh. One thing I have taken away from the format is that the optimum play to win is not always the most fun play. I once played a game in which I played a combo to draw a lot of cards, but due to the nature of the combo, allowed my opponent to take advantage and force me to draw my deck. It made me lose, sure, but losing to your own combo can be just as fun as winning with it, in my opinion. If it brings smiles to the table, it's definitely worth it.

7, Wizards' support and what it means for you.

As of December 2nd, Wizards has announced that it will be producing 5 Decks for release in June, each representing a different Wedge (A three colour combination with two allied colours, and their shared enemy colour, i.e. URG; WUR, etc). Within these decks, there will be 51 new cards designed specifically for the format itself, of which there will be TEN new Legendary creatures suitable to become your next Commander. This not only gives you an easy way into playing, but also a very inexpensive way to get into the format.

8, Commander is as expensive as you want it to be.

I'm sure this is one area within which the casual players will seek solace. This isn't Standard, you don't need 4 of every expensive Mythic going to compete. In fact, most decks I've seen are mainly built from commons. There's enough uncommon and common land to make two or even three colour decks viable, but also allow you to spend over a prolonged period if you see cards you like. In fact, even some of the rares are cheap: I'd say 10% of the rares I use go about £2 or £3 in value, but who says you even need to use rares? MTGSalvation has a Thread called 'Hidden Gems', within which people post cards that they have used that are 'off the radar'. It's how I've found cards like Stunted Growth – Green hand disruption for 3GG and all of 50p in value? SOLD!

9, Commanders don't have to be so... General.

Sorry for the pun, EDH-lovers. What I'm saying, is that you don't just have to have your Commander be there for his colours (i.e. the 5 coloured generals). There's currently over 450 Legendary Creatures in Magic, the vast majority of which can be used as Commanders. The best way to get value out of these is as follows;

a, They have an 'Enters the Battlefield' ability that you like to use
b, Their colours gives you access to cards that you enjoy playing (This is doubly true if you have pet cards, like I do.)
c, You wish to use them thematically as part of an overall theme you wish to support throughout your build.

Whichever way you want to go, know that there's plenty of support for whatever you want to do, and there's plenty of cards to experiment with to compliment your General. It depends where you sit on the argument: Do you want to be able to cast your General all the time to get the most value out of him, or do you want to just cast him once to help you win the game?


Guys, just have fun. In whatever way you seek to, just make sure you have fun with the format. If you want to be a power player and strive to win, go for it. If you just want to make a lot of tokens and swing for a billion after an Overrun, I not only approve of it, but I say go for it!

The format is so diverse that anything is possible. If you want to do something, chances are someone has done it and has had fun, so that you can try it yourself. There's over 11,000 different cards in Magic: Chances are, you could discover something amazing.

Well, those are your ten Command-ments. As always, if you have any questions, or you're interested in starting up and want to chat about the format, you can hit me up on the Facebook group, at WNM, or over MSN Messenger at

Take care, and have fun discovering new tricks!

Sunday, 5 December 2010

Top 8 Drafting - 2 Scars of Mirrodin PTQs

By Wagz

So, the Scars Sealed PTQ season is over and hasn't it been fun! It seems to be a pretty skill-intensive format, from the looks of the top 8 competitors at the PTQs I went to. My own record was 5-1-1 (lose quarters), 5-2 (lose semis), 0-2, 5-2 (9th) and 4-0-2 (lose semis), which is a success that comes with its own disappointment. Although the information is no longer really relevant to anyone not competing at worlds (hope they're reading this :p), I thought I would compile a small report on two top 8 draft decks. Firstly I have Mick Edwards' draft from the top 8 of Manchester (won by Grant Hislop).

Pack 1:
Pick 1:
Arrest over Razor Hippogriff, Red and White Myr and Glimmerpoint Stag. Obviously a difficult one, with so many good white cards in the pack. The best non-white card was the red Myr, however, so signals be damned - just take the best card.
Pick 2:
Grasp of Darkness over Turn to Slag, Palladium Myr, Stoic Rebuttal and Ichorclaw Myr. The choice is mostly between Grasp and Slag and the cheaper removal is better in draft but I'd rather have a Slag in sealed for silly bombs everyone has.
Pick 3:
Darksteel Axe over Grasp of Darkness and Rusted Relic. I disagree with this one. I know Mick likes aggressive decks and the Axe suits him but after one Grasp I think the second is a massive auto-include, whereas there are decks I don't play Axe in.
Pick 4:
White Myr over Clone Shell, Black Replica and Bladed Pinions. Seems correct, he can splash the Arrest in a mainly Black deck with this pick and it keeps his options open, but the Black Replica seems okay too.
Pick 5:
Ghalma's Warden over Strider Harness and Disperse. The pack is starting to look pretty empty. Mick is a massive fan of the Warden for some reason; I've never seen it have much impact on a game except to help my opponent to not die as quickly.
Pick 6:
Strider Harness over Green Trigon. By now the packs are getting as empty as my knowledge of the names of cards in cycles but this card always has a chance of making some deck. In a non-infect deck the Green Trigon is a really bad version of the Black Trigon.
Pick 7:
Tel-Jillad Fallen over Blue Trigon and Tel-Jilad Defiance. This Fallen is quite late but there hasn't been much of the Infect going before it so it could have just been a strong Infect pack. I like the Trigon more, even if it is just a 24th card a lot of the time.
Pick 8:
Black Replica over Lumengrid Drake and Infiltration Lens. Further cementing his Black but could Blue be open?
Picks 9-14:
Accorder's Shield, Wing Puncture, Abuna Acolyte, Razorfield Thresher, Necrogen Censer, Glimmerpost.

Not looking to be in good shape after pack 1 but apart from the Axe / Grasp pick there really haven't been any opportunities for a great deck.

Pack 2:
Pick 1:
Oxidda Scrapmelter over White Myr and Rust Tick. More bad packs for Mick here. The Scrapmelter is by far the strongest card even if it warrants another colour. The Arrest can always be splashed still as it's the only good white card Mick has so far.
Pick 2:
Rust Tick over Bloodshot Trainee, White Spellbomb and Ghalma's Warden. More keeping the options open, Rust Tick is good in any deck. We need to see a sign for what colours to play soon to make the most of the picks we get going forward.
Pick 3:
Black Myr over Barbed Battlegear, Cystbearer and Riddlesmith. Some good cards for strategies we don't have access to and a Myr for some cards we are playing.
Pick 4:
Tumble Magnet over Memnite, Red Myr and Tel-Jillad Fallen. Mick is Tumble Magnet's biggest fan but I would have taken the Red Myr after the Scrapmelter as it seems far more relevant.
Pick 5:
White Spellbomb over Ghalma's Warden. This card is good but it's a bit of a mediocre deck - need to see some pack 3 power.
Pick 6:
Heavy Arbalest over Saberclaw Golem. This card is quite good and gives him an opportunity for some removal in a mana-heavy draw.
Pick 7:
White Replica over Instill Infection and Blistergrub. I quite like Infection but Mick isn't a fan and he takes the body to make sure he has a curve whatever colours he ends up in.
Pick 8:
Vedalken Certarch over Loxodon Wayfarer, Golem Foundry and Necrogen Censer. Dry pack, the Certarch might warrant a change to Blue?
Picks 9-14:
Wing Puncture, Dross Hopper (over Corrupted Harvester), Bleak Coven Vampires, Blistergrub, Whitesun's Passage and Turn Aside.

Oh dear, we're in bad shape at the moment but he's making sure he has a curve with playable creatures whatever happens. When the packs aren't being kind it is prudent to make sure you end up with maximal playables.

Pack 3:
Pick 1:
Red Trigon over Black Replica, Grafted Exoskeleton, Hand of the Praetors. As mentioned here I like Grafted Exoskeleton and see it as a way of winning in an underpowered deck. I would still have taken the Black Replica over the Red Trigon.
Pick 2:
Golem Artisan over Chrome Steed, Volition Reins and Cerebral Eruption. Finally a pack with some decent cards. I like Artisan best, Reins is way too blue for us and Cerebral Eruption is not a good card, but I mentioned it so I could say this, how self-referential!
Pick 3:
Darkslick Drake over Blue Trigon, Barrage Ogre and Flameborn Hellion. Not sure about this, the Blue seems too late to move into as we already have White and Red removal spells and don't even have a Red Myr so could do with picking one as a secondary colour (probably white). I think the Barrage Ogre is a safer pick myself.
Pick 4:
Necrotic Ooze over Glint Hawk, Sylvok Lifestaff and Barbed Battlegear. Seems correct, Glint Hawk is good but we have a few activated abilities already and a 4/3 for 4 is a good size for limited.
Pick 5:
Darksteel Sentinel over Black Spellbomb and Bleak Coven Vampires. The packs are still a bit empty but this guy is very reliable as an attacker and blocker. Yes he's "bad against Infect" but he's really good against everything else and that's what sideboarding is for.
Pick 6:
Sky-Eel School over White Trigon. With his move to Blue as well this makes sense as it's a very good card and there really is nothing else to play.
Pick 7:
Blue Spellbomb over Neurok Invisimancer and Stoic Rebuttal. I don't like this, if we want to play Blue then Stoic Rebuttal seems better as we want to stop the opponent from casting their cards which are undoubtedly better than ours.
Pick 8:
Razorfield Thresher over Bladed Pinions. Zzzzzz.
Picks 9-14:
Fume Spitter, Fume Spitter, Seize the Initiative, Soul Parry, Vault Skyward, Vault Skyward.

Some gift Fume Spitters at the end and the White instants can be good sideboard cards.

Overall we don't end up with a very good deck, but apart from the the highlight discrepancies I don't think that Mick had much control over his fate. I think he ended up playing Black-Blue but sided into Black-White, which is what I would have played. He lost in the quarters to Kenny Hall - another Leeds player; who in turn lost to Martin Sylvester - the other Leeds player in the top 8.


Secondly I have my deck from the top 8 of Nottingham (won by Stuart Horden). I think my deck was pretty good so I was a bit disappointed to lose out but that's the way it goes. I was one of one-and-a-half Infect drafters at the table and the only guy in black for a few seats to my right so the goodies just kept coming. I beat someone I am afraid I don't remember the name of in the quarters (he was a nice guy but I had good draws) before succumbing to Stuart in the semis with a tight game 1 and big screws game 2.

1 Horizon Spellbomb
3 Blight Mamba
2 Necropede
1 Plague Stinger
1 Livewire Lash
1 Contagion Clasp
1 Grasp of Darkness
1 Cystbearer
3 Moriok Replica
1 Carrion Call
1 Corpse Cur
1 Tel-Jilad Fallen
1 Skinrender
1 Trigon of Infestation
1 Instill Infection
1 Slice in Twain
1 Contagion Engine
1 Untamed Might
10 Forest
7 Swamp


With Worlds coming up next week the Standard metagame will get thrown up a little (but it doesn't sound like there's anything surprising, the SSG Open Series is keeping it fresh) but we should expect the Extended meta to be set up for the new year's PTQs. Does anyone have any particular stories they want to share from this round of PTQs? If it's too long for the comments then remember that we're always soliciting guest writers :), hear from you soon.

Sunday, 28 November 2010

Deckbuilding Challenge - PTQ Manchester *9th*

By Wagz

Hi all, another PTQ gone - 9th this time unfortunately. It was by a whole point to, so I don't even get to complain about tiebreaks. I beat everyone who hadn't driven over from Leeds that day though so I can see a pattern. Today I went to the win-a-mox Legacy tourney as well and went 4-0-2 with the UG Survival-Vengevine deck, losing to Tomas Sukaitis in the quarter finals to get a sweet 5 boosters. Props to Jules Parker for lending me infinite cards for the deck :). Anyway, what I have to ask about today is my sealed pool from the PTQ. I feel I made the best of it I could but a quick glimpse from Mick Edwards and a claim of me "horribly misbuilding it" led me to want more opinions - it's a hard one when you get into it. So, enjoy the challenge of this one: (copy the cardname into for a picture)

Abuna Acolyte
Glimmerpoint Stag
Glint Hawk
Indomitable Archangel
Revoke Existence
2 Salvage Scout
Soul Parry
Sunspear Shikari
Whitesun's Passage

Darkslick Drake
Lumengrid Drake
Neurok Invisimancer
Plated Seastrider
Sky-Eel School
Steady Progress
Trinket Mage
2 Vedalken Certarch

Blackcleave Goblin
2 Blistergrub
Carnifax Demon
Corrupted Harvester
Flesh Allergy
Moriok Reaver
Necrogen Scudder
Painful Quandary
Psychic Miasma

Assault Strobe
Barrage Ogre
Flameborn Hellion
Melt Terrain
Molten Psyche
Oxidda Daredevil
2 Scoria Elemental
Tunnel Ignus
Turn to Slag
Vulshok Heartstoker

Carrion Call
Copperhorn Scout
Ezuri's Archers
Ezuri's Brigade
Tel-Jilad Defiance
2 Tel-Jilad Fallen
Untamed Might
Viridian Revel

Barbed Battlegear
Bladed Pinions
2 Chrome Steed
Contagion Clasp
Corpse Cur
Darksteel Sentinel
Echo Circlet
Flight Spellbomb
2 Glint Hawk Idol
Golden Urn
2 Golem's Heart (1 foil!)
2 Grafted Exoskeleton
3 Ichorclaw Myr
2 Necrogen Censer (1 foil!)
Panic Spellbomb
2 Razorfield Thresher
2 Saberclaw Golem
2 Sylvok Lifestaff
2 Sylvok Replica
Trigon of Thought
Wall of Tanglecord

Island (foil!)



My first instinct was obviously "sweet, 2 Chrome Steed and some good Metalcraft rares!" However, after a scout around of my zero mana myr and mostly awful metalcraft artifacts I had to have a rethink. A check of my poison cards conjured up some strong ones, but not quite as many as I'd have liked. Carnival Demon is a sweet one though, so maybe a GB Infect deck was present. Double Grafted Exoskeleton made any potential hybrid Infect deck a lot more forgiving so I looked at that route. After the Demon and Necrogen Scudder the black cards were a bit light, but white offered me a splash of Arrest and Revoke Existence. The more I looked, though, the more I saw that I was playing 2 white cards and 2 black cards - this isn't GB splash white, more Green splash white and black. Was there a better way? White did offer some more nice cards, the 4/4 Angel being huge, Stag working nicely with a couple of my cards (Clasp, Cur, Trigon) and something to go very well with my 2 Exoskeletons... enter Shikari :). I think this was about the best I could do with it all - not enough 2 drops and too many 4 drops but addressing my curve would mean a big hit in terms of power and I wasn't prepared to not go big in a 66-man PTQ (5-2 almost definitely not making it). I know I'll probably get flak for playing what looks like a janky build, but I'd like to see a better deck out of that pool.

Saturday, 20 November 2010

Guest Article - Tournament Maths – How to Make a Profit on Magic Online Part 2

By Sebastian Parker (RisingSun000 Online)

Ok, now that my last post has been up for a few days, I’d like to discuss how calculating the EV of entering events can affect your strategic decisions.

Case 1: Hourly EV
Consider, if you will, a hypothetical metagame consisting of red aggro decks (think goblins, red deck wins, burn etc.), blue control decks (mystical teachings, monoblue counterspells etc.) and some other decks. The red aggro decks only take about 10 minutes to complete a whole match whereas the blue control decks sometimes win by timing out the opponent and take 40 minutes on average to complete a single match.

After playing a hundred 2 man queues with each, you find that the red deck is winning 60% of the time and the blue deck is winning 80% of the time. Which one is more profitable?

On a per-match basis, obviously blue is winning more so blue should be most profitable right? Well, that’s not the whole story. Our equation from last time:

EV = expected prizes – costs

For a 2 man queue, the expected prizes are 1 booster*P(win) and the cost is 2 tix.

EVblue = 0.8*booster -2
EVred = 0.6*booster -2

But, the red deck is 4 times faster than the blue deck so the EV of 40 minutes of 2 man queues is

EVblue,40 = 0.8*booster -2
EVred,40 = 4*(0.6*booster -2)

To work out when it is more profitable to play red:

EVred,40 > EVblue,40
4*(0.6*booster -2) > 0.8*booster -2
2.4*booster – 8 > 0.8*booster -2
1.6*booster > 6
Booster > 6/1.6
Booster > 3.75tix

So when a booster is worth more than 3.75tix, you make more profit playing the red deck than the blue deck, even though the blue deck is more likely to win a round.

This theory only really works for 2 man queues (and sometimes to 8-4 drafts, where you sometimes split the finals) because during a daily or premier event you have to wait for everybody to finish a round before the next one starts so playing a less winning, but faster deck will not increase your EV.

Another interesting point arises here, the fast red deck and the slow blue deck are hypothetical extremes but this sort of calculation can affect how you build your deck. If the most reliable win condition for your control deck is gaea’s blessing, so be it, but if you could put in meloku to take a hit to your win% and finish your matches in half the time, it may be profitable to do so even though you win less of the time.

Case 2: Cost of Investing in Cards
Last time, I discussed the loss of value during the act of opening a booster pack. This is part of the cost of playing in drafts and there’s nothing you can do to avoid that loss other than win lots more packs to make up for it.

A similar thing happens in constructed, you have to invest into a deck before you can play. You can sell the deck when you’re done, but usually you make a loss on the transaction. (You did buy the cards to play with after all – not to speculate on an increase in price.)

I’ll be working on the assumption that by this point you’ve done enough drafting to have a playset of commons and uncommons, which you can’t sell to a bot. So the loss on a bought/sold deck is basically going to be the rares.

This year’s block constructed UW control contains some number of the following rares:

Elspeth Tirel10.5100.5
Venser, the Sojourner13.95130.95
Sunblast Angel0.30.20.1
Myr Battlesphere1.510.5
Seachrome Coast1.31.20.1
Contagion Engine0.400.4
Indomitable Archangel3.252.80.45
Wurmcoil Engine (promo is cheap)2.520.5
Precursor Golem0.6-0.6

(Buy prices taken from cardbot, sell prices taken from ads in the Classifieds)
The diff column is essentially how much it costs you to buy the card, put it in your deck, play for a while and then resell it. For this decklist
4 Glimmerpoint Stag
3 Sunblast Angel
3 Origin Spellbomb
2 Trinket Mage
3 Venser, the Sojourner
3 Elspeth Tirel
2 Contagion Clasp
2 Tumble Magnet
4 Revoke Existence
2 Volition Reins
4 Stoic Rebuttal
1 Myr Battlesphere
1 Contagion Engine
1 Precursor Golem
4 Seachrome Coast
10 Island
11 Plains

4 Necropede
4 Halt Order
4 Wurmcoil Engine
2 Trigon of Thought
1 Volition Reins

The ‘buy and immediately sell’ cost is 7.55tix. Compare that to the 92tix you need in your account to actually buy the cards and it comes off quite favourably. To make back the “cost” of the deck, you only need to win about 4 more 2 man queues than you lose (so even if your win% is only 55%, you’ll eventually make it back).

Since UW control is posting solid results in daily events, I’d expect it's winning something like 60-70% from the strength of the deck. A very strong pilot could probably steer toward the top end of that, along with the certain level of randoms playing their draft cards in 2 man queues, you can expect to win back your 7.55tix by entering

EV2man = 0.7*3.93 – 2 = 0.75
7.55tix/EV2man = 10

Ten 2-man queues, which will take approx. 4-5 hours with a control deck.
These are just a couple of the ways I use maths to help me make decisions in what to play online. I’m sure that a lot more people will want to play 2 mans when they release higher stakes. Hopefully this has been enlightening and as always,

Thanks for reading.

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

Guest Article - Tournament Maths – How to Make a Profit on Magic Online

By Sebastian Parker

It's been a while since I contributed to the blog, but I have some spare time (since i've finished my degree and haven't got a job yet) to play magic. Unfortunately I haven’t been able to go to all the PTQ’s I had planned to because I stupidly won the first one I went to (OOPS...). So now I have turned my attention once again to Magic Online.

Last time I talked about block constructed vampires, making profit online from a small initial investment. There are several layers of probability maths in magic:

1) “in game” maths, which affects your plays, like the probability of drawing a removal spell influencing whether you block or not.
2)“deck construction” maths, which affects how many lands you put in your deck, how many birds of paradise is preferable etc.
3)“tournament” maths, which affects your deck choice, how likely you are to win a round, how likely you are to top8.

This time I want about tournament maths - how to go about making profit online.
First, I’d like to introduce the concept of expected value (EV). EV is a way of expressing the average outcome of uncertain events. The easiest way to explain is with an example game:

Alex and Norman are playing a bean game. Alex has to throw beans into a cup a 3 metres from where he’s standing. Alex will win every bean which lands in the cup. Norman thinks Alex will struggle to throw beans into the cup, so Norman and Alex each put 5 beans into the pot from which Alex will attempt to throw beans.
From Alex’s perspective, he’s paid 5 beans to play the game. He will win every bean which lands in the cup. His expected winnings are the number of attempts times 1 bean times the probability that he will successfully get a bean into the cup minus the cost of entry to the game, 5 beans.

EV= expected prizes – cost of entry

EV= 10*1 bean*P(success) – 5 beans

(the asterisk * indicates multiplication, P(success) indicates the probability that Alex will successfully throw a bean into the cup)

So if Alex is good at throwing beans into cups, i.e. if P(success) is more than 0.5, then Alex will have an EV of more than 0 * (i.e. positive) and as the game goes on expect to increase his collection of beans.
*(EV = 10*0.5 – 5 =0)

Now let’s relate this concept to magic – 2-man constructed queues. To enter costs 2 tix, the prize depends on the format but most at the moment are either Scars of Mirrodin packs (which you can sell to the trading bots ..Hogwarts.., .7BP or .Coruscant for 3.93 tix) or M11 packs (which are 3.3 I think).

In order to make profit in 2-mans, we can apply the same formula:

Scars pack queues:M11 queues:
EVscars = 3.93*P(win) scars – 2EVM11 = 3.3*P(win) M11 – 2

And rearrange to find the point at which we start to make profit (EV=0 is the point between profit and loss, so setting EV=0 gives us a minimum P(win) needed to make profit).

2/3.93 = P(win) scars = 50.9%
2/3.3 = P(win) M11 = 60.6%

So in order to make profit in 2 man queues, you’ll need to be winning more than these %’s.

So far so good, these are fairly simple calculations. Now let’s move it up a notch – 8 man constructed. 6tix entry, 3 rounds, single elimination, 5-3-2-2 scars packs. To keep things simple, we’ll assume and average win% rather than take into account the fact that winning players are tougher opponents.

We’ll start by listing all the outcomes and their probabilities and payouts:

Lose 1st roundP(lose)0
Win 1st round, lose 2nd roundP(win)*P(lose)2*3.93
Win 1st round, win 2nd round, lose finalsP(win)*P(win)*P(lose)3*3.93
Win all three roundsP(win)*P(win)*P(win)5*3.93

Since there are only two outcomes to a match – win and lose, P(lose) = 1 - P(win)
EV = expected prizes – costs
EV8man = P(lose)*0 + P(win)*P(lose)*2*3.93 + P(win)*P(win)*P(lose)*3*3.93 + P(win)*P(win)*P(win)*5*3.93 – 6

This is easiest to do in excel, so I’ve written a spreadsheet to work it out for me. In order to make profit in an 8-man, you need a match win% of just 51%.

Let’s add another layer of complexity. When you’re drafting, the booster packs you open have random cards in them and the cards hold a value. The expected value of the cards inside a pack is the value of the cards you could open, multiplied by the likelihood of opening them. As such, I have another spreadsheet with all the card names of Scars of Mirrodin and how much you can sell them to cardbot for. Multiplying each value by the likelihood of opening that card yields a value of 1.08tix. So to buy a scars pack for 4tix and open it and sell the cards inside has an EV of -2.92tix. (We all know just opening packs straight up is like throwing money down the drain, and this is why – it costs nearly 3tix per booster!)

So when you’re drafting, it costs 3 packs and 2 tix (or 14 tix if you’re buying boosters). Your expected prizes are the value of the cards you open (3 Scars of Mirrodin booster packs worth = 3*1.08 = 3.24tix) plus the actual prizes you win.
Again, we list all the outcomes and their probabilities and payouts:

OutcomeLikelihoodPrize (4-3-2-2)Prize (8-4)
Lose 1st roundP(lose)00
Win 1st round, lose 2nd roundP(win)*P(lose)2*3.930
Win 1st round, win 2nd round, lose finalsP(win)*P(win)*P(lose)3*3.934*3.93
Win all three roundsP(win)*P(win)*P(win)4*3.938*3.93

Assuming you’re using packs you’ve won (which are worth 3.93tix to you) 2 tix + 3 packs = 2+3*3.93 = 13.79

EV4-3-2-2= P(lose)*0 + P(win)*P(lose)*2*3.93 + P(win)*P(win)*P(lose)*3*3.93 + P(win)*P(win)*P(win)*5*3.93 +3.24-13.79
EV8-4= P(lose)*0 + P(win)*P(lose)*0 + P(win)*P(win)*P(lose)*4*3.93 + P(win)*P(win)*P(win)*8*3.93 +3.24-13.79

Again, I’ll let the spreadsheet do the work. To make profit in a 4-3-2-2, you need to win more than 79% of your matches. To make profit in an 8-4, you need to win more than 64% of your matches. Remember, this is under the assumption that you’re selling all the cards you open (that you actually can – you’ll end up with a bunch of worthless rares like Dissipation Field along with all of the commons and lots of uncommons).

The conclusion is that it’s much easier to “go infinite” online playing 8-4’s than 4-3-2-2’s, which we all knew since we’re good players and we only play in 8-4’s anyway.
We could add another layer of complexity, which would be to account for winning players being tougher opponents – P(win round 1) being greater than P(win round 2) etc. But in order to come up with an estimate, we’d need a bunch of data on the ratings of players who enter the tournaments. (The ELO rating system used by the DCI uses a formula to calculate the probability of the outcome of a match given the difference in rating between the two players). At the moment, MTGO ratings are not published due to a previous culture online of ratings taunting – players being obnoxious to each other due to their low ratings etc. so calculating different win% for different rounds is impossible.

I hope you’ve enjoyed reading about the maths of magic tournaments, hopefully I was clear in my explanations. If you were skimming through for some actual online strategy, rather than just some abstract theory:

1)Force poison in draft, I mean it – take Plague Stinger over pretty much anything (even Sunblast Angel and Arc Trail for example). Do not pass infect creatures except to pick up Darksteel Axe, Untamed Might, Grasp of Darkness, Skinrender, Steel Hellkite, Wurmcoil Engine, (Spikeshot Elder if you might be Gr or Br) or money cards (Koth, Venser, Masticore, Elspeth). Cut the player to your left out of black and green as hard as you possibly can. Give them good metalcraft cards so they’ll stay out of poison. I have made 49tix in the 7 drafts i’ve played so far using this strategy and I intend to continue. (editor: must be lucky, I agree with the sentiment but I've found infect to be massively overdrafted and easy to beat if you want to).

2)Play UW control in Scars of Mirrodin block constructed – it’s dominating this year. Check out for daily events decklists. It also doesn’t have the same mirror match problem as last year since it’s about 100tix to put together not 12, so people are trying out cheaper (and worse) options.

3)Don’t play queues where the payout is M11 packs (pauper, classic, singleton) when you can play Scars (scars block, standard, extended, legacy) queues and have a much easier ride on the road to profit.

Thanks for reading.

Thursday, 11 November 2010

Drafting with Wagz #8 - Beating Poison

By Wagz

Hi all, apparently I haven't done one of these in a while. Zendikar and Worldwake were truly awful draft formats but I'm not sure why I didn't bother with Rise. Probably because I was having too much fun drafting to spend time writing about it. Zendikar and Worldwake regularly beat be out of tickets and boosters on Magic Online because each time you have exactly a 1/8 chance of winning the draft and those odds are hard to beat. I bought enough tix to do a Rise of the Eldrazi prerelease and have ridden that investment, going infinite for a while. I drafted a lot of Rise and then M11 2-3 times a week before Scars of Mirrodin came along.

This draft format is hard!

But fun. So many options, lots of things to do with your mana on any given turn, and very skill intensive. With Zendikar draft, even the stupidest of opponents couldn't much up happening to have a 1-drop, 2-drop, 3-drop draw but I've seen many opponents throw away games in Scars because there is so much to play around and so much to do.

My going infinite got me down to a mere 10 tix and a booster yesterday, however. I sold off a couple of Mythics I'd got during M11 (Gaea's Revenge has gone up in value ^^) to get me up to 20 and invested in the remaining 2 boosters to fire up an 8-4. Here's how it went:

  Pack 1 pick 1:

  My Pick:

I was obviously tempted by the rare but he's not very good in draft. The real options were Clasp, Red Trigon and Plague Stinger. These are all good in infect decks but the Clasp is good in any deck so I took it to keep my options here. I love drafting infect as much as the next man but when all 8 players are drafting it, as it seems to be on magic online at the moment, it doesn't often come off. I was, therefore, a little disheartened to be passing a Plague Stinger because this basically guarantees one of the two guys on your left will be in infect, sadface.

  Pack 1 pick 2:

  My Pick:

I guess I should have taken Glint Hawk Idol here but I was still living the infect dream and Cystbearer is really good. Plus he's fine in a G/X control deck, so fit in many of the same decks as Clasp. The other option is Sylvok Replica, who is really good but puts you mostly in the same Green control deck when you're passing this many infect guys.

  Pack 1 pick 3:

  My Pick:

*holds onto dream*

  Pack 1 pick 4:

  My Pick:

*gives up*. Arrest and the other white cards here are a clear sign that White is open on my right. I don't rate Auriok Edgewright at all but since it is the 4th white card it lowers the probability that there were more white cards in here before and so increases the likelihood that white is open. Slam down the Arrest (which I didn't see for a while because the foil Soliton was shiny).

  Pack 1 pick 5:

  My Pick:

Slice in Twain also should not be this late. Infect is clearly a dead end so I'm prepared to be a Green/X control deck at this point, probably Green-White although I'm not sure what that deck would look like.

  Pack 1 pick 6:

  My Pick:

Ooh, a rare! This will help with all my mana problems! Yes, that'll do.

  Pack 1 pick 7:

  My Pick:

I like the Wall a lot. At this point we notice a few blue cards have gone round, the Lumengrid Drake last pack and 2 Invisimancers. The Wall of Tanglecord will definitely go in any colour control deck though and moving in on a 2/1 for 3 isn't amazing. Obv I didn't notice the rare.

  Pack 1 pick 8:

  My Pick:

Nothing really here except the Trigon which is okay but not amazing. It costs a lot of mana but card advantage is card advantage and it's a better option than the rest of the pack.

  Pack 1 pick 9:

  My Pick:

Really had no good picks for the rest of the pack.

  Pack 1 pick 10:

  My Pick:

Oh, except this one was interesting. The Ezuri's Archers are a good sideboard card against Poison decks (well, Plague Stinger decks) but if I do end up control then I need some way to finish the game. The Hellion will be good if I can pick up removal. The Panic Spellbomb is also good but I prefer it when I'm definitely a lot of red, definitely not splashing that one.

  Pack 1 pick 11:

  My Pick:

  Pack 1 pick 12:

  My Pick:


  Pack 1 pick 13:

  My Pick:

  Pack 1 pick 14:

  My Pick:

  Pack 1 pick 15:

  My Pick:

  Pack 2 pick 1:

  My Pick:

I heard this guy was passable in a control deck so I drafted him to try him out. You should always try out rares that look okay to get a feel for them. That is to say I am now White based control because this guy is absurd.

  Pack 2 pick 2:

  My Pick:

White Myr will be very good with the Angel I've just taken. I'm itching for a couple of the other cards but this guy will always make my deck and always be very good. One thing to notice at this point is that infect wasn't an option, but also metalcraft isn't the way this deck is shaping either. I'm willing to be in the market for just good cards if they have a deck strategy at least - control. One way to get ahead here is to go in on fliers and stuff up the ground - this means I might actually go in for blue cards. Blue was open but we don't really have any blue cards yet. We do still have all those green cards, but I'm kind of okay to let them go if I'll get set up for the rest of the draft - at this point I'll be on the lookout for Blue being open from my left as well.

  Pack 2 pick 3:

  My Pick:

Revoke is a great control card and we pass on Invisimancer #17.

  Pack 2 pick 4:

  My Pick:

Sky-Eel School is a funny one. It's very good, but it never gets taken. That's because it's just a `good stuff' card. I think that blue mostly just wants to be a good stuff colour (well, it is the best colour in Magic) so we take it but accept that it might not be a signal. Trinket Mage also being in the pack, however, might be.

  Pack 2 pick 5:

  My Pick:

Control needs counter spells, but this will most likely just be a sideboard card.

  Pack 2 pick 6:

  My Pick:

Erm, so 4th pick and 6th pick Arrests presumably means I'm the only white drafter. Not sure why the packs have been relatively empty then but I happily take the #1 common removal spell.

  Pack 2 pick 7:

  My Pick:

Gotta love the fatties. I'm not a big fan of this guy but you need a way to win somehow and he essentially has unblockable because if they have no artifacts they probably have nothing on the table.

  Pack 2 pick 8:

  My Pick:

Definitely the only white drafter - screw my green cards!

  Pack 2 pick 9:

  My Pick:

Bad removal is still removal and it gets better when you have more good removal because you don't have to waste your good removal on their less good things.

  Pack 2 pick 10:

  My Pick:

The jury's still out on this one in draft as he's bad against infect but I need him in this deck.

  Pack 2 pick 11:

  My Pick:

  Pack 2 pick 12:

  My Pick:

  Pack 2 pick 13:

  My Pick:

  Pack 2 pick 14:

  My Pick:

  Pack 2 pick 15:

  My Pick:

  Pack 3 pick 1:

  My Pick:

This was a bit empty. Part of me wanted to take the Galvanic Blast to keep the green and red splash open but this seemed a bit greedy as I only really had a Shania Twain that I would want to splash in green. I take the mana Myr because I really need a few of those in this sort of deck. I've plenty of removal so I'm on the lookout for 1-2 more mana myr and a few more 4-5 drop fliers at this point, as well as anything else ridiculous the packs happen to offer me.

  Pack 3 pick 2:

  My Pick:

This guy is a great stalling mechanism in an empty pack. There's a stoic rebuttal here and there was one in the last pack so one will probably come back to me, which is nice.

  Pack 3 pick 3:

  My Pick:

Mana Myr - check!

  Pack 3 pick 4:

  My Pick:

Something ridiculous - check!

  Pack 3 pick 5:

  My Pick:

4-5 drop fliers - check! Getting into a decent shape here.

  Pack 3 pick 6:

  My Pick:

Didn't need it but wasn't going to play anything else except the remote possibility of Darksteel Myr. Turn to Slag deals with the only ways we have of winning though so I remove it.

  Pack 3 pick 7:

  My Pick:

The snapsail glider is decent but will mostly be a 2/2 in this deck. There's another 2/2 for 3 in this pack who interacts very favourably with 4 of our 2-drops (3 mana and the perilous Myr) so we take it for a bit of curve and synergy.

  Pack 3 pick 8:

  My Pick:

I take the Accorder's Shield in case I need to Shield up my ground creatures or fliers in fights but it's unlikely to be great for me.

  Pack 3 pick 9:

  My Pick:


  Pack 3 pick 10:

  My Pick:

I take the Certarch in case I need him and the Liquimetal Coating from pick 6 comes back in pick 14 but I don't have enough artifacts here. I'm still missing a good flier so I'm a bit concerned but I do have plenty of removal and a good curve.

  Pack 3 pick 11:

  My Pick:

  Pack 3 pick 12:

  My Pick:

  Pack 3 pick 13:

  My Pick:

  Pack 3 pick 14:

  My Pick:

  Pack 3 pick 15:

  My Pick:

The rest of the packs don't give me anything to work with so I set about constructing my deck as:

Gold Myr
Copper Myr
Leaden Myr
Perilous Myr
Wall of Tanglecord
Contagion Clasp
2 Revoke Existence
Myr Galvaniser
Stoic Rebuttal
2 Arrest
Halt Order
Darkslick Drake
Bonds of Quicksilver
Trigon of Infestation
Sky-Eel School
Trigon of Thought
Sunblast Angel
Darksteel Sentinel
Volition Reins
Scrapdiver Serpent

I don't have replays of my matches but round 1 was against RB poison hybrid (not enough poison guys) and I shut him out on the ground before getting in with some fliers. I didn't even have my Angel this match but a 2-0 win in classic Magic™ fashion was enough.

My opp for round 2 didn't show up, leading me to believe that I'd accidentally clicked on the swiss queue and lost my first round. When I came to my senses I realised I'd been given a bye to the finals, very strange.

The finals was against UGB poison with not enough poison guys. This is the problem with poison at the moment - everyone's scrabbling for the guys and no-one gets enough playables. The best way to capitalise is as I did - solid cards and fliers. Since you have to trade a lot against poison, metalcraft decks struggle to hold onto metalcraft so you may as well play cards which are good anyway. Ways to stop the Plague Stingers are pretty key so Contagion Clasp-a-likes and slightly bigger fliers will blunt the assault very quickly (but don't play Blunt the Assault). When you have them unable to do anything you can pull ahead with your superior cards and card advantage mechanisms.

I now have 10 tix and 8 boosters in my account - guess I'll try to keep going infinite for a while.